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UND football Week 1 primer: How to watch, injuries and matchups with Idaho State

The Fighting Hawks kick off the 2021 fall season at 2 p.m. Saturday at Idaho State.

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UND running back Isaiah Smith weaves around cones during morning football practice at Memorial Stadium on Monday, August 9, 2021. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

POCATELLO, Idaho β€” In the spring of 2021, the University of North Dakota football program ranked 10th in the FCS in sacks with 11 players accounting for 24 sacks. Of those 11 players, 10 return this fall.

As UND opens the season Saturday against Idaho State, the No. 8 Fighting Hawks β€” fresh off an FCS quarterfinal appearance β€” will need that quarterback pressure to continue to avoid their old nemesis from spoiling a season with high expectations.

Over the last six years, UND's defense has struggled against Idaho State's offense. In Idaho State's 2015 win over UND in Grand Forks, Bengals quarterback Michael Sanders threw for 427 yards and four touchdowns and wasn't sacked in the game. In 2019 in Pocatello, Matt Struck threw for 396 yards and five touchdowns and wasn't sacked once.

"They do a good job of getting rid of the ball and some of that was on us a little bit," UND coach Bubba Schweigert said. "We always want to pressure the quarterback. That's been done around here for a long time. Once again, it's a different team and a different set of circumstances.

"You have to make a choice. You either have to pressure the quarterback or cover the receivers. I know their guys are really difficult to cover, but we have to be multiple and hopefully can give some different looks and confuse the quarterback. But he's an experience guy, so that'll be a real challenge."

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It's a challenge Idaho State coach Rob Phenicie has been giving extra attention to at his fall camp.

"Once again, Bubba Schweigert is an excellent coach," Phenicie said. "He coaches the right way β€” physical defense, strong run game, big offensive line. The tackle No. 76 (Matt Waletzko) is an NFL-caliber guy. This is as big of an offensive line as we'll see all year.

"The running back (Otis Weah) is stout and hard to bring down. As our defensive coordinator said he's a special guy. He is."

Weah wasn't eligible to play in the 2019 game against Idaho State, while Waletzko was injured early in the game.

"Defensively, the amount of movement and stuff they throw at you, you have to pick and choose what you want to do," Phenicie said. "We dedicated a lot of time to North Dakota this fall camp. We needed to get in to game-planning, and we're putting a lot in to this game. It's important. You have to be prepared against a Bubba Schweigert-coached team."

No. 8 UND at Idaho State

Kickoff: 2 p.m.

Where: Holt Arena, in Pocatello.

TV: None.

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Radio: 96.1 FM (Jack Michaels on play-by-play, Tom Dosch analyst)

Streaming: The game will available on ESPN-Plus .

Betting line: North Dakota -10.5, over-under 45.5, per 5Dimes.

Injuries: The big four injuries UND football fans have been watching all fall will be worth keeping a look out for on Saturday. Offensively, UND wide receivers Bo Belquist and Brock Boltmann slowly worked more and more into practice throughout fall camp. Meanwhile, on defense, safety Jordan Canady and cornerback Evan Holm have done the same as Belquist and Boltmann. Canady and Holm are both veterans, though, and may be able to step right in to game action. UND offensive lineman Peyton Lotysz, a Grand Forks Red River product, was originally slated to start at center this fall but suffered an injury during fall camp. Lotysz is expected to return to practice soon.

The Fighting Hawks will win if the UND football program truly turned a corner in the spring season. The Hawks are a Top 10 preseason program and should play like a contender. UND wins if Tommy Schuster continues to play a clean game and the offensive line has retooled well enough to allow preseason All-American running back Otis Weah to have a big day. If Belquist and Boltmann can add some jolt to the passing game, UND should be able to throw on the Bengals. UND was excellent at pressuring the quarterback in the spring and that'll need to continue against an Idaho State team which historically succeeds at getting the ball out quickly and cleanly.

The Bengals will win if UND's defensive secondary is a step slow to the Idaho State fast receiving corps. Idaho State will be successful if the Fighting Hawks' three new offensive lineman play like an inexperienced bunch. If UND's four main injuries all appear to limit their effectiveness, UND's firepower will be diminished. It could be especially glaring at safety, where UND will start Hayden Galvin but has a bit of a mystery as far as his partner.

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019 and 2022.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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